Roleplaying Games

Why Cthulhu Excels in Gaming

EN World reported the results of its RPG podcast of 2021 on episode #181 of Morrus’s Unofficial Tabletop RPG podcast, and you can see below that Cthulhu dominated the top spots of both “Talk” and “Actual Play” categories:


1 Miskatonic University Podcast
A podcast dedicated to Call of Cthulhu and other Horror and Lovecraftian roleplaying games.

2 Modern Mythos
A podcast about the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, writing, game mastering, and playing — presented by the hosts, Jon Hook and Seth Skorkowsky.

3 Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is the podcast of authors and game designers Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. Stuff talked about includes hobby gaming, history, occultism, chrono-travel, food, cinema, narrative, art, politics, food, maps, Cthulhiana, and in fact any matter subject to jocular yet penetrating erudition.

4 Frankenstein’s RPG Podcast
Frankenstein’s RPG. By Dave Paterson. In each episode as selected guests run through their RPG history and try to construct the perfect Role Playing Game.

Actual Play

1 Sweden Rolls
Four actors play the best of Swedish RPGs with one of Sweden’s most experienced and appreciated podcast GMs.

2 Ain’t Slayed Nobody Podcast
Call of Cthulhu comedy-horror podcast riding through the American Old West. Saddle up as we turn femurs into mist and canteens into grenades. Tombstone meets The Thing meets The Adventure Zone.

3 The Old Ways Podcast
It’s a weekly Tabletop RPG show in an actual play format where a group of great role-players serve up their character’s experiences in new and published scenarios. We are currently recording our Call of Cthulhu group, but in the future we will invade other universes!

4 Grizzly Peaks Radio
An Actual Play podcast covering Call of Cthulhu, Tales from the Loop and others. Join me Andy Goodman from Expedition to the Grizzly Peaks and our rotating cast of gaming luminaries.


Given the ubiquity of fantasy settings in the RPG market, that Cthulhu plays a role in the top talk podcasts and top 4 actual play podcasts astonishes. Nevertheless, as someone who has run Cthulhu campaigns for years, I attribute part of this success to how Cthulhu orients players toward the gaming environment and avoids some of the pitfalls that arise in the more common science fiction & fantasy campaigns.

By orient, I’m talking about player expectations. To put it bluntly–players expect bad things to happen to their characters. Someone sitting down to play Call of Cthulhu does so expecting his character to either die or go insane. In fact, some players might feel a Call of Cthulhu campaign that doesn’t result in either of these outcomes has failed its endeavor.

While this might strike you as obvious or trivial, it makes all the difference in the game dynamic. A player who expects his character to die or go insane will not bristle at each instance of failure–will not be put off when the character acquires maladies during his adventures–and will not become demoralized when that character dies.

When someone spends hours crafting a character for D&D, GURPS, etc., he does so with the hope that this character will do great things. In the extreme, he might hope that his character will go on to feature in fiction the player will write later or that his friends will come to associate him with the character in an iconic way. In short, the character is a vessel for vicarious experience. In game terms, every time the GM afflicts that cherished totem with adversity, he threatens the aspirations of said character. But afflicting the characters with adversity is precisely the GM’s role in the game. Still, no matter how much your players swear they don’t mind bad things happening to their characters, some of them will wax ornery about it.

In sum, Cthulhu succeeds in the gaming industry, even beyond the success of the source material in popular culture, because it establishes a frame of mind that facilitates enjoyment rather than disillusion.

But hope exists! Of course, I mean for your other campaigns, not for CoC investigators–there should never be any hope for them. Other games can capture the Cthulhu dynamic if the players approach the game with a Call of Cthulhu mindset–that is, the characters do not represent you–the characters exist to suffer adversity (the creative writers might recognize this mindset 😉).

That said, maybe a clever GM should advertise every campaign as Call of Cthulhu.


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